What they go to school for
I don't enjoy feeling like an old fart who's hopelessly out of touch with 'ver kidz', because it's my job not to be, but I watched a TV programme last night that made me a) feel 1,000 years old and b) unleashed my inner working class rage.
Don't Mess With Miss Beckles is one of those 'I can change your life' shows, but rather than stick a pipe up someone's bum and flush out decades-old curry, or run around their house with a duster slagging off their ornaments, Miss Beckles is hoping to get some lazy schoolboys to achieve in their GCSEs what they should be achieving, rather than what they think it's cool to achieve, i.e. nothing.
Statistics show that boys are being outperformed by girls at school in just about everything bar pissing contests, so Miss Beckles's mission is to motivate (at first) two male pupils and help them get good grades in their mock GCSEs. Her charges, Luke and Josh, were your archetypal teenagers. Luke was crippled both by a controlling mum and also a kind of lonely jealousy that his mum had met a new man and had his baby. And guess what? The stepfather was a bit of an authoritarian. I could empathise with Luke a little: there's nothing worse than your mum's new man coming in and crapping all over your cushy teenage life, but some cope with it better than others. The other 'victim', Josh, was a mummy's boy through and through and while his mum seemed absolutely lovely, it became increasingly clear that it was her relaxed attitude that was contributing to the fact that her son thought he could breeze through life and it all would be OK; that and their frankly huge house in the not-too-shabby area of Muswell Hill in north London which would no doubt all be his one day.
I liked Miss Beckles straight away, as I have a soft spot for tough-talking black women who won't take any shit and unlike some of the other self-help shows that ridicule and belittle participants, Beckles really seemed to care about the boys and it turned out to be the parents who were standing in her way more than the teens.
As if by magic, when Beckles announced she'd take the lads to see football club Arsenal play if they stuck to her rules, a third boy wanted to join the 'project'. The over-indulged Tom, who had a face like a French bread pizza that had been rolled around the floor of a barbershop at closing time and the sneer of a fox caught doing a shit on your rockery, was a happy participant right up until after the football match. As soon as Beckles suggested that Tom might want to pull his right hand out of his girlfriend and pick up a pen and paper and do some study instead, he flicked his golden, ne'er-do-soap hair and got his parents to agree that the whole thing was a stupid idea and that he never wanted to see Miss Beckles again. My eyes narrowed as Miss B patiently sat and nodded while Tom's deluded, holistic, muesli-headed mum debunked the Beckles method (which is essentially 'do some fucking studying') and said that her son hadn't achieved anything because of it. And so, Tom chose a term full of dry rides and love bites instead of a decent stab at some good grades.
Miss Beckles saw her role change from educational motivator to family counsellor when the dysfunctional relationship between Luke and his mother deteriorated. Whether Luke's laziness was driving her mad or she had a lot of issues she had to deal with herself I don't know, but as mum dumped Luke's possessions at the school gates and aired years-old dirty laundry about the boy's dyslexia, bullying and divorce trauma, I couldn't help but think this woman would have been better off in therapy rather than screaming in a Formica-topped school kitchen about how unfair everything was on her. I wasn't entirely surprised that her son hated her.
Despite the trials and tribulation endured by the boys during Miss Beckles's time in their lives, they did admit that they had made progress, even if the parents wouldn't. The programme was great, although it did make me a little bit sad. I never said 'fuck' to my mother in an argument, nor did I think it was OK to openly drink, smoke and shag in or around her company when I was 15. I had more respect for her and also I wanted her to think highly of me. I'm not saying I wasn't doing any of those things, but I didn't feel I had to flaunt it or rub my mum's nose in it. I mean, isn't the whole fun of being a teen doing this kind of thing in secret? As a teenager, I would have given anything to have grown up in these guys' huge houses and have a super-liberal mum and a nice, middle-class upbringing. I realise now, in hindsight, that I would much rather have my working-class background, with its rules and a mum who cared about me but stopped me going off the rails. It makes me appreciate achievement a lot more.
Perhaps if we removed these families from their cosy Muswell Hill life and plonked them in the middle of a Peckham sink estate, the boys would work that little bit harder to better themselves and the mums would encourage them to do exactly that. Just a thought...